Shade and practicality inspired by an iconic hat

NO SWEAT: Picture an Akubra hat turned upside down and you'll understand the inspiration behind this solar-passive home. Photo: Barton Taylor
NO SWEAT: Picture an Akubra hat turned upside down and you'll understand the inspiration behind this solar-passive home. Photo: Barton Taylor

Solid, sturdy and sunproof. The characteristics of a dinky-di Akubra hat are not a bad place to start when it comes to building a home as well.

Architect Alexander Symes pinched the station manager's hat to make the point during his first meeting with the clients on their bull farm near Nundle, south east of Tamworth.

"Placing it upside down, I started to explain the concept of the 'upside down Akubra house'," said Alexander.

"The idea being, a single large scale roof form, much like the brim of the Akubra hat, overhanging the house below. The roof would block out all the summer sun, yet allow in the winter sun to warm the central thermal mass that would form the spine of the home, as well as catching rainwater to run the house, all with a functional home underneath celebrating views in every direction."

The client had selected the site for their new home atop a gently sloping hill, among a grove of eucalypts, with the land falling sharply away to the east to a dry creek bed.

It was at this point that one of the key challenges for this project presented itself: how to create a low energy, thermally comfortable home that celebrated views all around.

From this meeting, the Upside Down Akubra House was born, a house with a roof that is two and a half times the size of the building footprint, a home that generates and stores all its own energy and collects enough water to run the house and treat its own waste.

Living off-grid is not new these days, but necessary in this remote location, greatly affected by extreme weather conditions including the current drought.

What makes this off-grid home unique however, is how the technology has become the aesthetic of the home. Celebrating the off-grid characteristics begins with the "humble" carport, although standing at 4.5m at the tallest point and covering an area of 80m2 this carport is far from humble. It is in fact a canopy of LG neon bi-facial photo-voltaics, which means that the solar cells are visible from the underside of the canopy celebrating the technology that powers the whole house.

The entry to the home is also the introduction to the single 450mm diameter gutter that collects all rainwater off the 560m2 roof.

SMOOTH: Sliding doors from the kitchen allow for free flow onto the bluestone patio. Photo: Barton Taylor

SMOOTH: Sliding doors from the kitchen allow for free flow onto the bluestone patio. Photo: Barton Taylor

The kitchen is anchored by the large island workbench which allows the communal preparation of meals and the coming together of friends and family. The bluestone patio is ample in size creating outdoor rooms that extend the inside out and provides additional opportunities to gather and feel connected to the land.

ENTERTAINING AREA: Part of the client brief involved a fire pit where family and friends could gather. Photo: Barton Taylor

ENTERTAINING AREA: Part of the client brief involved a fire pit where family and friends could gather. Photo: Barton Taylor

The floor is polished concrete with an aggregate that reflects the warm colours of the land and the greens of the bush. Integrated in the floor is in-slab hydronic heating and cooling which is powered by onsite renewables and provides additional active heating and cooling as necessary.

The concrete floors together with the zegoform concrete walls are exposed in winter due to the pitched roof form and covered in summer, when the sun is high, thus creating a large thermal mass through the house which provides natural warmth in winter and natural cooling in summer.

To further manage the extreme temperatures during the year the facade and roof are highly insulated and sealed with a high-performance water permeable membrane.

Through the inspiration of the iconic Akubra hat a simple yet modern farmhouse is created. One that responds to the extreme climatic conditions, has a light touch on the landscape, harnessing natures energy for sufficiency and connects to the surrounds on which it stands.

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